News outlets across the country have characterized two recent bills that effectively banned abortions in Georgia and Alabama in a number of ways. Some media outlets have painted the laws as Republican measures while others have painted it as the byproducts of Christian crusaders or the creations of sexist men.
But the numbers show it’s really not that simple.
In Georgia, one Democrat voted “yea” and five Republicans voted against the passage of the so-called “fetal heartbeat bill,” which bans abortions before most women can know they are pregnant. And despite the assertion that the Living Infant Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act is a move by Christian conservatives, one can safely assume that most of the people who voted “nay” are also Christians.
Even though a number of reporters and activists have noted that only male senators voted for the restrictive Alabama legislation, a woman sponsored the Alabama measure (State Rep. Terri Collins), six female lawmakers voted in favor of the ban and a woman signed the bill into law (Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey). In Georgia, 13 women voted to pass the bill and at least one Democratic representative in each state supported the measures. While those numbers represent small minorities, there is one trait that the people who voted to effectively ban abortion in Georgia and Alabama have in common:
Altogether, 212 lawmakers voted to pass two of the most restrictive abortion bans in America.
211 were white.
To be fair, this does not mean that white people are in favor of outlawing abortion. In October 2018, Pew Research found that 60 percent of blacks and 61 percent of whites believe that abortions should be legal in all or most cases. A March 2018 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that the majority of both races (62 percent of black Americans and 56 percent of white Americans) say there should be a least some health care professionals in their community who provide legal abortions. Both polls also show that most mainline Christians agree that abortion should be available. Although it is often portrayed as a gender issue, 57 percent of men and 60 percent of women support legal abortions, according to Pew.
Most people are in favor of a woman’s right to obtain a safe and legal abortion.
But when it comes to politics, the issue becomes black and white. Three-fourths of people who identify as Democrats believe abortion should be legal, compared to 36 percent of Republicans, Pew reports. And, while the label of “identity politics” is often used to describe any mention of race in the political arena, this is where the dog whistle of the GOP’s white identity politics comes into play.
For decades, the Grand Old Party has used the politics of race to keep their stranglehold on the South. Despite ranking third and sixth among the states in black population percentage, Georgia and Alabama’s legislatures are overwhelmingly white and Republican because the unspoken rule in Alabama and Georgia is that the Democratic Party is for black people and the Republican party is for whites.
Whites make up 89 percent of Republican voters in Alabama and 84 percent of Georgia’s GOP voters. In both Georgia and Alabama, every single Republican lawmaker in the state legislature is white. Alabama only has two white Democrats in the entire state legislature and two third of Georgia’s Democratic legislators are black.
Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, was not only notorious for suppressing the black vote in his previous job as secretary of state, but he and his conservative cohorts used every racially divisive tactic in the book including purging voter rolls, warning supporters about the disturbing rise in minority voters and outright racism.
In Alabama, when accused middle school dating enthusiast Roy Moore ran for a Senate seat, the vast majority of white women in Alabama (63 percent) voted for him. The state’s politicians inject the principles of white supremacy in everything from religion to school policy to politics. The state that still celebrates Confederate Memorial Day and bills itself as the “Heart of Dixie” is essentially America’s oldest Confederate monument.
Even before this controversy, during the 2018 midterm elections, Alabama quietly approved a ballot measure to amend the state constitution to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life” and explicitly state that no citizen had the right to an abortion.
Women supported the amendment. Men supported it. Some Democrats supported it. In fact, the only places where the measure failed was in Jefferson County, home of Birmingham, one of the blackest cities in America, and a band of counties that stretch across the state where white people are minorities.
They call it the “Black Belt.”
If the people who are trying to criminalize women’s healthcare choices were concerned about the children or the sanctity of life, they wouldn’t support the NRA, repealing the Affordable Care Act, dismantling welfare or locking up immigrant children in cages. Like common-sense gun control, immigration reform, Obamacare and a higher minimum wage, the overwhelming majority of Americans agree that legal and safe abortions should be available to women. People in favor of abortion rights come in all sexes and colors. It is not really a divisive issue except for a small subset of the population. Ultimately, it is an example of identity politics at its finest.
However, those who support banning abortion are not characterized by gender, religion, geography or even party affiliation as much as they are defined by one thing: